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Madison, WI 53726
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You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs /Forest Disturbance Processes /Air, water, and soils pollution / Development of Improved Bacterial Based Water Treatment Systems to Remove Heavy Metal and Other Hazardous Contents, and Increase the pH of the Water.
Forest Disturbance Processes

Development of Improved Bacterial Based Water Treatment Systems to Remove Heavy Metal and Other Hazardous Contents, and Increase the pH of the Water

Research Issue

[photo] Kimble creek water affected by acid mine drainage has low pH and high concentrations of iron, aluminum and manganese.Abandoned coal mine sites have often been responsible for the acid mine drainage (AMD), a serious polluter of ground water supplies. The materials released by AMD include heavy metals (such as iron, aluminum, and manganese), other hazardous substances, and acidity that is harmful to aquatic life. Improved economical methods are needed to remove these substances from water to prevent detrimental effects on forest health.

The Kimble Creek abandoned coal mine site is located on National Forest System land in northern Lawrence County, Ohio. The site drains to Kimble Creek, which flows into Pine Creek, which in turn flows into the Ohio River. Hazardous substances are leaching from the site.  These releases include pollutants; low pH-surface water discharge (acid mine drainage) from an abandoned coal mine entrance; and a low-pH seepage from coal mine waste piles (gob piles).  Surface water leaving the site contains concentrations of metals (iron, aluminum, manganese, and others) and net acidity known to be detrimental to aquatic life. 

 Our Research

[photo] Water treatment plant where acid mine drainage-affected water flows through several cells containing  lime stone. Metal oxidizing bacteria are adsorbed on these rocks to facilitate removal of iron and other heavy metals as dense crystalline material preventing clogging of the system.Our work with the Wayne National Forest in Ohio resulted in the development of a bacterial system to remove hazardous materials caused by the AMD. This microbiological water treatment system uses specific metal-oxidizing bacteria adsorbed on limestone to remove metals and pollutants and increase the pH of the water. A pilot plant initially constructed to treat some of this water was monitored for 1½ years for removal of iron, aluminum, and other pollutants. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) and DNA analyses were also used to monitor rock samples for the growth and presence of inoculated bacteria and their efficiency in improving water quality. Results showed that the system was able to consistently increase the pH of effluent water to above neutral levels (pH of the influent water varied from 1.5 to 4.0). The iron and aluminum contents, which were as high as 72 mg/L and 37mg/L, respectively, were below detectable levels in the effluent water. A full-fledged system has been installed and is being monitored. Modifications will be made based on the functioning of the installed unit. Also, such plants are being planned for other sites similar to the Kimble Creek location.

Expected Outcomes

Acid mine drainage is a serious problem affecting ground water supplies, which in turn has direct implications to forest, wildlife, and human health. The bacterial removal system offers a relatively simple biological alternative to otherwise very expensive and often not consistent methods for treatment of the AMD.  Research will immensely help in improving the AMD-affected ground water supplies.

Research Results

Hiremath, Shiv; Lehtoma, Kirsten. 2009.  Microbiological treatment system to improve water quality affected by acid mine drainage (AMD). Proceedings, Second International Conference on Forests and Water in a Changing Environment. p. 49.

Hiremath, Shiv; Lehtoma, Kirsten.  2006. Pyrolusite plant for improving water quality of acid mine drainage affected Kimble Creek in southeastern Ohio: Monitoring results. Proceedings, 10th Billings Land Reclamation Symposium, Billings, MT.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Shiv Hiremath, Research Biologist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station

Research Partners

  • Gary Willison, Wayne National Forest, Nelsonville, Ohio
  • Michael Nicklow, Wayne National Forest, Nelsonville, Ohio

Last Modified: 10/19/2010

About this Research Area
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Hiremath, Shiv; Lehtoma, Kirsten. 2009. Microbiological treatment system to improve water quality affected by acid mine drainage (AMD). Proc. of Second International Conference on Forests and water in a changing environment, Raleigh, NC Sept 14-16, 2009. p. 49.